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Supporting a loved one through mental-health struggles

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Friends may be the first ones to notice when a loved one is struggling, according to Alberta Health Services, and helping that loved one may start with an honest conversation. Photo: Marco Bianchetti/Upsplash

Loved ones can be the first ones to notice changes in a friend, according to an Alberta Health Services (AHS) release, and those struggling often turn to the trusted people in their life for support.

Friends may see a change in mood, certain behaviours or in activities that their loved one used to enjoy, AHS stated.

“You may notice your friend seems to be tired all the time or is easily annoyed,” the release reads. “Maybe they've stopped hanging out and are spending more time alone. Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint what’s different about them, but you just have a sense that something’s wrong.”

If concerns for your friend have lingered and changes in that friend have been going on for awhile or seem to be getting worse, it’s time to do something, AHS said.​​​

“Start by sharing with your friend what you have noticed and why it concerns you,” the release stated. “Have this conversation in a comfortable but private place, where the two of you can talk without being interrupted. Let them know that you care about them and you’re worried about them.”

AHS recommends those looking to help a loved one focus on building confidence – “identify your friend’s abilities and strengths, build on them, and encourage your friend to do their best.” Additionally, complimenting your friend can help them remember the positives in their life, according to AHS, which can be beneficial when times get tough.

Have a conversation to help your friend uncover what stressors are impacting them and healthy ways to manage those stressors, AHS said.

“Support your friend to find safe and constructive ways to talk about negative feelings, such as anger or sadness,” the release states. “Sports, writing (keeping a journal), painting, dancing, making crafts, are all good ways to help deal with difficult emotions.”

AHS recommends you encourage your loved one to do things they’re good at and enjoy, and act as a cheerleader to help them build the courage to try something new – a great way to have fun together.

“Helping others to acknowledge their strengths and feel good about themselves can also help you recognize your own strengths and ways you can support your own mental wellness,” according to the release.

AHS highlighted the following additional signs a friend may need some support:

  • They don’t seem to enjoy activities as much anymore.
  • They seem distracted or are having trouble staying focused.
  • They are unusually worried about things that don’t seem to be a big deal to you or others.
  • Their eating habits have changed – they avoid hanging out at lunchtime or make excuses as to why they’re not eating.
  • They’re always tired or complain they aren’t sleeping well.
  • They’re missing more and more time from school or work.
  • They’re drinking more alcohol or have increased use of other drugs.
  • They’re sad much of the time and find it hard to see any positives in their life.
  • They are spending more time alone—they don’t want to hang out with friends or do any of their usual activities.

Noticing these changes and speaking up about them could be the catalyst for your friend to seek assistance.

If you or if your friend needs more help, call Health Link at 811 or the Mental Health Help Line – available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – at 1-877-303-2642.


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